Nat Torkington

Nat has chaired the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and other O'Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web server in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook, and was one of the founding Radar bloggers. He lives in New Zealand and consults in the Asia-Pacific region.

Four short links: 1 January 2016

Four short links: 1 January 2016

Caffeine, Matt Webb, Human Robots, and Bloated Websites

  1. Is Caffeine a Cognitive Enhancer? (PDF) — Two general mechanisms may account for most of the observed effects of caffeine on performance: (1) an indirect, non-specific ‘arousal’ or ‘processing resources’ factor, presumably explaining why the effects of caffeine are generally most pronounced when task performance is sustained or degraded under suboptimal conditions; and (2) a more direct and specific ‘perceptual-motor’ speed or efficiency factor that may explain why, under optimal conditions, some aspects of human performance and information processing, in particular those related to sensation, perception, motor preparation, and execution, are more sensitive to caffeine effects than those related to cognition, memory, and learning. See also Smith 2005‘s caffeine led to a more positive mood and improved performance on a number of tasks. Different effects of caffeine were seen depending on the person’s level of arousal. Linear effects of caffeine dose were also observed. This is evidence against the argument that behavioral changes due to caffeine are merely the reversal of negative effects of a long period of caffeine abstinence. (via cogsci.stackexchange.com)
  2. On Stars and Thinking Things Through (Courtney Johnston) — Matt (to my eyes, anyway) doesn’t have a singular ‘thing’: he has this kind of spangly web of interests and skills that coalesces around a line of enquiry and results in the making or doing of a thing, and these things in turn become part of that web and generate further experiments and thinking. Seconded.
  3. Human-like Robot — and just like a real woman, the first paragraphs about the robot focus on soft skin and flowing brunette hair not how well she does her job. Progress!
  4. Website Obesity (Maciej Ceglowski) — The javascript alone in “Leeds Hospital Bosses Apologise after Curry and Crumble On The Same Plate” is longer than /Remembrance of Things Past/.
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Four short links: 31 December 2015

Four short links: 31 December 2015

Reverse Engineering Playground, Feeding Graph Databases, Lessig, and Fantasies of Immortality

  1. crackmes.de — practice playground for reverse engineering and breaking protections.
  2. Feeding Graph Databases — exploring using logging systems to feed graph databases.
  3. Lessig Interview (WSJ) — the slogan says regulation should be more technology neutral. I am not sure I ever heard a more idiotic statement in my life. There is no neutrality here, just different modes. … I don’t what think the law should say here is what services can do and not do, because the technology is so (fast-changing) the law could never catch up. But that what (we want) to avoid are certain kinds of business models, a prison of bits, where services leverage control over access to content and profit from that control over content.
  4. Bubble-Driven PseudoscienceIn terms of life extension, here are the real opportunities: closing the gap between black and white patients, lowering the infant mortality rate, and making sure the very poorest among us have access to adequate care. You can make sure that many people live longer, right now! But none of this is quite as sexy as living forever, even though it’s got a greater payoff for the nation as a whole. So instead of investing in these areas, you’ve got a bunch of old white men who are afraid to die trying to figure out cryonics.
Comment
Four short links: 30 December 2015

Four short links: 30 December 2015

Bitcoin Patents, Wall-Climbing Robot, English 2 Code, and Decoding USB

  1. Bank of America Loading up on Bitcoin PatentsThe wide-ranging patents cover everything from a “cryptocurrency transaction payment system” which would let users make transactions using cryptocurrency, to risk detection, storing cryptocurrencies offline, and using the blockchain to measure fraudulent activity.
  2. Vertigo: A Wall-Climbing Robot (Disney Research) — watch the video. YOW! (via David Pescovitz)
  3. Synthesizing What I MeanIn this paper, we describe SWIM, a tool which suggests code snippets given API-related natural language queries.
  4. serialusb — this is how you decode USB protocols.
Comment
Four short links: 29 December 2015

Four short links: 29 December 2015

Security Talks, Multi-Truth Discovery, Math Books, and Geek Cultures

  1. 2015 CCC Videos — collected talks from the 32nd Chaos Computer Congress conference.
  2. An Integrated Bayesian Approach for Effective Multi-Truth Discovery (PDF) — Integrating data from multiple sources has been increasingly becoming commonplace in both Web and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) applications to support collective intelligence and collaborative decision-making. Unfortunately, it is not unusual that the information about a single item comes from different sources, which might be noisy, out-of-date, or even erroneous. It is therefore of paramount importance to resolve such conflicts among the data and to find out which piece of information is more reliable.
  3. Direct Links to Free Springer Books — Springer released a lot of math books.
  4. A Psychological Exploration of Engagement in Geek CultureSeven studies (N = 2354) develop the Geek Culture Engagement Scale (GCES) to quantify geek engagement and assess its relationships to theoretically relevant personality and individual differences variables. These studies present evidence that individuals may engage in geek culture in order to maintain narcissistic self-views (the great fantasy migration hypothesis), to fulfill belongingness needs (the belongingness hypothesis), and to satisfy needs for creative expression (the need for engagement hypothesis). Geek engagement is found to be associated with elevated grandiose narcissism, extraversion, openness to experience, depression, and subjective well-being across multiple samples.
Comment
Four short links: 28 December 2015

Four short links: 28 December 2015

Bitcoin Software Choke, IoT Chokes, Dynabook History, and Fault Tree Analysis

  1. Core Bitcoin Devs LeaveAccording to a press release put out by Company 0 LLC, formed by former bitcoin developers, there are a few external entities that fund the actual development of the bitcoin cryptocurrency, forming a power-group that is in sole command of the direction the currency takes. These developers say that this group limits outside input in the currency’s governance, cherry-picks only options favorable for their own interests, and generally ignores the developers’ and community’s best interests.
  2. Internet of Proprietary Things — wonderfully accessible list of things we don’t have: Because companies can enforce anti-competitive behavior this way, there’s a litany of things that just don’t exist, even though they would make life easier for consumers in significant ways. You can’t have custom software for your cochlear implant, or your programmable thermostat, or your computer-enabled Barbie doll. An auto-repair shop can’t design a better diagnostic system that interfaces with a car’s computers. Capturing all the value you create, versus creating more value than you capture.
  3. Tracing the Dynabooka historical study of the Dynabook project and vision, which began as a blue-sky project to define personal and educational computing at Xerox PARC in the 1970s. It traces the idea through the three intervening decades, noting the transformations that occur as the vision and its artifacts meet varying contexts. (via Bret Victor)
  4. Fault Tree Analysis (FTA): Concepts and Applications (PDF) — 194 slides from NASA. (via Mara Tam)
Comment
Four short links: 25 December 2015

Four short links: 25 December 2015

Bad Data, Breakout Startups, Drone Economics, and Graph Signs

  1. Bad Data Guide (Quartz) — An exhaustive reference to problems seen in real-world data along with suggestions on how to resolve them.
  2. Breakout List — companies where all the action is happening. Read alongside Startup L Jackson’s “How to Get Rich in Tech, Guaranteed.”
  3. The Economics of Drone DeliveryThe analysis is still mostly speculative. Keeney imagines that 6,000 operators who earn $50,000 per year will operate 30,000 to 40,000 drones. Each drone will make 30 deliveries per day. Her analysis ignores depreciation and questions like: ‘How will drones avoid airplanes and deliver packages in Manhattan?’ And there’s another core issue: $12.92 is the price UPS charges to consumers, but its actual marginal cost of delivering one more package along a route they are delivering to already is probably closer to $2. When push comes to shove, will drones be able to compete? (via Chris Anderson)
  4. 7 Ways Your Data is Telling You It’s a GraphNetwork, tree, taxonomy, ancestry, structure – if people are using those words to talk about an organizational chart or reporting structure, they’re telling you that data and the relationships between that data are important.
Comment
Four short links: 24 December 2015

Four short links: 24 December 2015

Python Viz, Linux Scavenger Hunt, Sandbox Environment, and Car Code

  1. Foliummakes it easy to visualize data that’s been manipulated in Python on an interactive Leaflet map. It enables both the binding of data to a map for choropleth visualizations as well as passing Vincent/Vega visualizations as markers on the map.
  2. scavenger-huntA scavenger hunt to learn Linux commands.
  3. SEE — F-Secure’s open source Sandboxed Execution Environment (SEE) is a framework for building test automation in secured Environments.
  4. The Problem with Self-Driving Cars: Who Controls the Code? (Cory Doctorow) — Here’s a different way of thinking about this problem: if you wanted to design a car that intentionally murdered its driver under certain circumstances, how would you make sure that the driver never altered its programming so that they could be assured that their property would never intentionally murder them?
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Four short links: 23 December 2015

Four short links: 23 December 2015

Software Leaders, Hadoop Ecosystem, GPS Spoofing, and Explaining Models

  1. Things Software Leaders Should Know (Ben Gracewood) — If you have people things and tech things on your to-do list, put the people things first on the list.
  2. The Hadoop Ecosystem — table of the different projects across the Hadoop ecosystem.
  3. Narcos GPS-Spoofing Border Drones — not only are the border drones expensive and ineffective, now they’re being tricked. Basic trade-off: more reliability or longer flight times?
  4. A Model Explanation System (PDF) — you can explain any machine-learned decision, though not necessarily the way the model came to the decision. Confused? This summary might help. Explainability is not a property of the model.
Comment
Four short links: 22 December 2015

Four short links: 22 December 2015

Machine Poetry, Robo Script Kiddies, Big Data of Love, and Virtual Currency and the Nation State

  1. How Machines Write PoetryHarmon would love to have writers or other experts judge FIGURE8’s work, too. Her online subjects tended to rate the similes better if they were obvious. “The snow continued like a heavy rain” got high scores, for example, even though Harmon thought this was quite a bad effort on FIGURE8’s part. She preferred “the snow falls like a dead cat,” which got only middling ratings from humans. “They might have been cat lovers,” she says. FIGURE8 (PDF) system generates figurative language.
  2. The Decisions the Pentagon Wants to Leave to Robots“You cannot have a human operator operating at human speed fighting back at determined cyber tech,” Work said. “You are going to need have a learning machine that does that.” I for one welcome our new robot script kiddie overlords.
  3. Love in the Age of Big DataOver decades, John has observed more than 3,000 couples longitudinally, discovering patterns of argument and subtle behaviors that can predict whether a couple would be happily partnered years later or unhappy or divorced. Turns out, “don’t be a jerk” is good advice for marriages, too. (via Cory Doctorow)
  4. National Security Implications of Virtual Currency (PDF) — Rand research report examining the potential for non-state actor deployment.
Comment
Four short links: 21 December 2015

Four short links: 21 December 2015

Anomaly Detection, Contempt Culture, Deep Learning Robot, and Compromised Firewalls

  1. Bro — open source intrusion and anomaly detection service, turns everything into events that you can run scripts against. Good pedigree (Vern Paxson, a TCP/IP elder god) despite the wince-inducing name (at least it isn’t “brah”).
  2. Contempt Culture (Aurynn) — for a culture that now prides itself on continuous improvement and blameless post-mortems and so on, we’re blind to a contempt culture that produces cults of criticism like “PHP isn’t a real programming language,” etc., where the targets of the criticism are pathways disproportionately taken by women and minorities. I’m embarrassed by how much of 2001-era Nat I recognise in Aurynn’s description.
  3. Deep Learning RobotBuilt for advanced research in robotics and artificial intelligence (deep learning). Pre-installed Google TensorFlow, Robot Operating System (ROS), Caffe, Torch, Theano, CUDA, and cuDNN.
  4. Juniper ScreenOS Backdoor — here’s the ssh password that’ll get you into any unpatched Juniper firewall, courtesy a backdoor that will be keeping network admins and CEOs alike awake and unhappy around the world. The interesting analysis with long-term effects will be “how the hell did it get in there?”
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